A rascal of a fish at Selby Gardens, Canon Eos
I’ve been reading a book called My Grandfathers’ Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen. Every time I pick it up and read even a few pages, my eyes well up with tears. (I had to stop reading it in public because it just got too embarrassing.) This book moves me because it is kind. It’s like that moment when you feel blue and someone says something unbearably nice and you just break down. When someone blesses you.
What is a blessing?
When I was in Thailand a few years ago, Matt and I discovered a cultural exchange called “Monk Chat” at a temple in Chiang Mai. It gave foreigners an opportunity to talk to monks about monastic life, Buddhism and Thai culture, while giving these young men a chance to practice their english and learn about us.
We asked one of the monks about meditation and he said, “It is about training the mind to be skilled in thought. When you are on the bus staring at the back of someone’s head, you can use that time to worry about money or all of the things you need to do, or you can use that time to bless the people around you. This is skilled thought. Thought that serves others.”
Since then, I’ve tried this trick on the bus and I noticed that it did two important things:
1. You get out of your head long enough to be present and actually see the people around you
2. It stirs a compassion in you for those same people. It’s as if the act of blessing is what cultivates compassion and not the other way around. You don’t feel compassionate so you bless, you bless so that you are filled with compassion.
I find that a lot of things work this way. For example, there is a romantic misconception that painters are struck with inspiration and dart to the canvas to create their masterpiece. Usually this is not how it happens, and if you wait until you are inspired to paint, you might never do it! But if you simply begin moving the brush around, dipping into the colors, you find inspiration (and even joy) in the process and want to continue.
The same goes for meditation. If you wait until you feel peaceful enough to meditate, you might wait a lifetime. But if you simply stop and sit (out of a commitment to the practice) you begin to find that peaceful place within.
Maybe we have it backwards. All of this waiting to feel ready, inspired, strong enough, smart enough. Maybe the writing of the book is in the end what will make us feel ready to write the book, and the blessing of others will make us feel blessed ourselves.